Recycling and Salvaging Key to Reducing Waste on Fort Peck Reservation

On the Fort Peck reservation, one can see it lying beside the streets in towns, in country ditches, in yards, and scattered in fields: garbage. Sometimes garbage cans overflowing, with bags torn open by stray dogs who strew the garbage about can be seen, as well as the landfill dumpsters filled to the brim. There are junk cars and car parts in yards of the tribal housing developments. What do visitors see and think of these communities? What does this do the morale of the people living there?

The Fort Peck Indian Reservation, located in northeast Montana, is home to “over 12,000 Assiniboine and Sioux enrolled tribal members and contains about 2,094,000 acres of land within its exterior boundary…[and] 939,165 acres of tribal and allotted surface trust acreage that includes Turtle Mountain Public Domain lands” (BIA). The majority of the Native population resides near the Missouri River at the southern border of the reservation, which encompasses the towns of Frazer, Oswego, Wolf Point, Poplar, Brockton, and Fort Kipp.

One solution to reduce the amount of waste littering the reservation is recycling and salvaging metals. Recycling paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass, and salvaging iron, steel, junk cars, and aluminum materials would seriously impact the amount of waste in those overflowing garbage bins, yards, and dumpsters. In fact, recycling materials has a direct correlation with reducing waste, as an EPA report noted, “In 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.5% recycling rate.” (EPA)

The idea of recycling and salvaging is a great idea in theory, but currently there isn’t a place to take these recycling items that is convenient to each town on the reservation. To examine the hurdles a reservation community faces in recycling, the community of Frazer, Montana can serve as an example. Frazer is located on the western most half of the reservation, and the closest place to redeem cans is Pacific Steel and Recycling in Glasgow, Montana, which results in a round trip of 60 miles. One would have to procure a truck to haul a very large amount of cans for this trip to be worth it.

For recycling success to occur at Fort Peck, it is clear that the reservation needs centers convenient for each town to be able to drop off recycling, and for that program to be well-known among residents reservation-wide.

The focus needs to be on what is thrown away. Empty plastic bottles, newspapers, paper in general, cardboard, glass, tin cans, and steel cans are all thrown away—even though these items can potentially be recycled. The sad thing is that once these items go to a landfill, that’s where they stay, as “landfills are designed to bury trash, not break it down…they are airtight, so oxygen and moisture do not break down the trash the same way they would in a dump. Because trash is protected from decomposing, landfills have been known to keep newspapers intact and easily readable up to 40 years later.” (Discovery)

According to the last census in 2010, there are “952 households in Wolf Point, Montana” (U.S. Census). If each of those 952 households saved an average of at least 100 pounds of cans a year, it would be a total of 95,200 pounds of aluminum. If the cans were to be contributed to Wolf Point’s hypothetical local recycling center and redeemed at a high rate of $0.60 cents a pound, that would equal $57,120 a year to fund the center and fund beautification projects in that community—just on aluminum cans alone. Not bad for something that usually goes into the trash or just lies around within the communities. Once the community pools together their recycling, real change in the landscape and real funding for recycling centers can be a reality.

Plastic bags, the bane of the reservation, do have some difficulty getting recycled. However, according to the University of Illinois, Champaign, plastic bags, “Can be converted into diesel, natural gas, and other useful petroleum products…[and the] conversion produces significantly more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels— diesel, for example—that can be blended with existing ultra-low- sulfur diesels and biodiesels. Other products, such as natural gas, naphtha (a solvent), gasoline, waxes, and lubricating oils such as engine oil and hydraulic oil also can be obtained from shopping bags” (Briefs). Eventually, the tribes should look into investing in a conversion plant of some sort here on the reservation for plastic bags, as this energy potential seems like a great source of revenue for the tribes.

With the first step of implementing small recycling centers in each community, the recycling program would need warehouses to store recyclables, and a transport system to take bulk loads to sell to buyers. The tribal government should be able to help initially with some costs, or even with buildings that are no longer used, and Fort Peck Community College could train new CDL drivers with hauling loads.

The Environmental Protection Agency website has valuable information about starting a recycling program and encourages that “establishing a community recycling program is a wise investment in the local and regional economy, a strong commitment to reducing energy needs, and an effective way of preserving our environment” (EPA).

In conclusion, currently there are 18 recycling centers in Montana listed on the website ( Here’s to hope that number will increase by one more, when a major recycling program is implemented for the betterment of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Such a program ought to be a shining example to the other communities and the other six reservations in Montana.

Ellen Enriquez is a student at Fort Peck Community College.


Bureau of Indian Affairs. (2014). Fort Peck Agency. <>.

Discovery Channel. (2011). Pollution. <>.

No author. (2014). Briefs. Advanced Materials & Processes 172(4), p. 14.

State of Montana. (2014). Where to Recycle. <>.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). Starting a Recycling Program. <>.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2014). Municipal Solid Waste. <>.

United States Census. (2011). 2010 United States Census. <>.

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